She became a member of parliament while still at university. The day before her sudden death last month, she had a public spat with President Museveni. Twenty-four-year-old Cerinah Nebanda’s passing has gripped Uganda. Some wonder if the incident is a warning to other MPs: don’t be too critical of the man in charge. Fellow MP and medical doctor Chris Baryomunsi was among the first to view Nebanda’s body. Afterwards, he spent five days in jail. Here’s his story, as told to RNW correspondent Arne Doornebal.
On the evening of December 14th, we got the news that our colleague Honourable Cerinah Nebanda had just died and was lying in one of the private hospitals here in Kampala. I was among the first members of parliament to get this information. I rushed to the clinic and confirmed that she had died. Since then, we have been trying to find out what caused her sudden death.
The day before her death, the president held a special address to parliament. He said that the health sector in Uganda had improved, and there were enough drugs in health facilities. Nebanda said that was not true: in her own constituency, there were no medicines. The president had promised to organise a trip so they could inspect the health facilities in her district together. Nebanda was a vocal, outstanding, courageous and fearless MP. She would confront everybody, including the president, if she was convinced that the position they took was not in the interest of the people.
Nebanda was healthy. Even on the morning she died, she had been to parliament. So something happened within a short span of time, and it caused her death. We thought that, being a high-profile person and an outspoken politician, she had maybe been poisoned. Everybody thought there could have been foul play.
That’s why we immediately gathered at the hospital. We agreed with police that both the family and the government would bring in a pathologist to try to establish cause of death. But later, the police behaved quite strangely and said observers like me should not be part of the process. This raised a lot of suspicion in the public arena.
When the pathologist nominated by parliament and Nebanda’s family was about to board a plane to South Africa, police arrested him. Samples were forcefully removed from his bag. Some of us who were part of this process were later arrested, accused of stealing the body parts of a human being, and arraigned before courts of law.
As I was travelling to my constituency on Christmas Eve, I encountered a road block that had been mounted to look for me. The police said they had instructions from the powers above to stop me and bring me back to Kampala. When I asked why, they said they didn’t know, but had been so instructed.
I was brought to a police station in Kampala, and spent five days in the cells, although our constitution clearly states that a suspect should not be held for more than 48 hours.
The police had already announced before we entered the post-mortem room that Nebanda had died of an overdose of narcotic drugs and alcohol. We question how they can make such a conclusion even before the body was opened.
Our clarification to the public – that we should wait for a laboratory analysis of the samples – probably annoyed the police, who wanted the people to believe she had died of an overdose.
It is still a possibility option that Nebanda was poisoned.
Maybe it was an attempt to subdue MPs, and make them fear being critical in parliament. But I don’t think it will achieve that result. If anything, MPs are going to be even more energised and more vocal, more critical, outspoken, independent-minded and objective in debate.
Threats, arrests, even attempts to kill people – they cannot weaken me. Never.